A series of extreme anti-Israel events has threatened to transform Vassar College from “a prestigious institution into a parody ripe for ridicule,” Mark Yudof and Ken Waltzer wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, calling on the university to “confront this wave of anti-Semitism.”
Yudof, the former president of the University of California, and Waltzer, a professor emeritus of history at Michigan State University, briefly summarized some of the more notorious incidents that took place at the Poughkeepsie-based liberal arts college in recent years. These included the heckling of students who participated in a 2014 academic program that featured a trip to Israel, efforts to boycott Sabra hummus in the fall semester of 2015 because its manufacturer is partly owned by an Israeli company, and ongoing attempts to boycott Ben & Jerry’s on the (false) grounds that it transports ice-cream “on Jewish-only roads to be sold in Jewish-only settlements.”
Earlier this month, the university also hosted a lecture by Jasbir Puar, a Rutgers associate professor of women’s and gender studies, which was sponsored by eight academic programs at Vassar, including the Jewish Studies and American Studies departments.
In the off-the-record talk, Puar “passed on vicious lies that Israel had ‘mined for organs for scientific research’ from dead Palestinians.” She also accused Israelis of maiming Palestinians, giving them the “bare minimum for survival,” and stunting their growth. Puar advocated for boycotting Israel as part of “‘armed’ resistance” to the Jewish state.
Puar also agreed with a member of her audience that Israel was committing genocide against the Palestinians, but rejected the use of the term “genocide,” because it was too “tethered to the Holocaust.”
Although the talk was co-sponsored by Vassar’s Jewish Studies Program, none of its faculty members in attendance spoke out against Puar. Yudof and Waltzer characterized their silence as “a testament to the spell that anti-Israel dogma, no matter its veracity, has spread over the campus.”
“[T]he false accusation that a people, some of whose members were experimented on at Auschwitz, are today experimenting on others is a disgrace,” they added. Yudof and Waltzer also emphasized the parallel between the language anti-Israel campaigners use to vilify Israel, and the language anti-Semites have used historically to demonize Jews, and warned that these and similar anti-Israel programs and campaigns are “transforming a prestigious institution into a parody ripe for ridicule–a place embarrassing to prominent alumni and worrisome for prospective Jewish students.”
Yudof and Waltzer praised Vassar President Catharine Bond Hill for stating in 2014 that the university rejected all boycotts of Israel by academic associations, but noted that her response to Puar’s talk was “tepid.” They argued that the demonization of Israel and Jews shouldn’t “be characterized as merely another perspective to be debated,” adding that faculty, administration officials, and the Jewish Studies Program must “confront this wave of anti-Semitism with the primary tools at their disposal: free speech and rigorous academic inquiry.”
Yudof and Waltzer are, respectively, the board chair and the executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, which describes itself as “a diverse network of college and university faculty and administrators on campuses across the United States that addresses issues relating to Israel.”
Anthony Berteaux documented some of the anti-Semitic efforts undertaken by anti-Israel campaigners, including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), on university campuses in the February 2016 issue of The Tower Magazine. Berteaux recounted that in 2014, “the SJP chapter at Vassar College even tweeted Nazi propaganda from 1944.”
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